Why the cards matter least – Poker Strategy Part 5

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McTap03 | Poker Articles, Poker Strategy, Poker Tournament

This article belongs to the Poker Tournament series

In this article I will discuss the stage of the tournament. If you have not read the previous articles in this series, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, at your convenience.

Now you might be wondering why I consider the stage at which the tournament is at to be more important than the cards you may be holding. The reason for this is because your opponents, and possibly yourself, will be playing differently depending on which point you are at. Keep in mind that these stages vary in length/time depending on if it is a SNG or a MTT.

Early Stage of tournament
No matter if you are playing a SNG or a MTT, the early stage is a great time to pick up information on your opponents. At this point you can either play tight or loose in order to see how your opponents will play against you. By understanding how your opponents are playing should allow you to play the opposite of them and rake in their chips.

No matter what stage the tournament is at, one of you main goals is to always be chipping up. This becomes more apparent in MTT, rather than SNG, as making the money in a MTT will require far more chips than a standard 10 person SNG. That does not mean you should be going all in to steal every blind early on, as this stage many people are willing to gamble with less than monster hands in hopes of hitting and doubling up where they can look to cruise to the money. Because the blinds at this level are relatively small compared to the stack sizes, it is always better to try and keep your pots small. Slowly eating away at your opponents stacks

Here are some of the things to consider early on:
– low blinds allow you to see cheap flops, be willing to invest up to 20% of your stack on drawing hands
– call from the BB when getting better than 2:1 odds with drawing hands
– respect early position pre-flop raises until you can get a solid read on your opponent
– if folded to you, try to steal the blinds from the BTN, CO and CO+1
– try to keep the pots sizes fairly small to avoid taking a big hit to your chip stack
– try to mix up your play so that your opponents can’t get a read on your style
– if you raise pre-flop and get more than 1 caller, a c-bet is not necessary if the flop doesn’t hit your hand, especially if it is a coordinated board. (2 or more face cards, 2 or more suited cards, connected cards, or a combination of all of them, as these hands get overplayed early on and could easily hit your opponent(s) hand)

Another thing to consider early on is limping with AA or KK if you have position and a good read on your opponents. This move is very tricky as it allows multi-players into the pot which could then destroy your hand on the flop, especially if the flop is coordinated in nature. You should be willing to fold if you don’t hit your hand on the flop and players raise your c-bet or if there is action before you with a coordinated flop. Although it is nice to try and build pots with these monster hands, you don’t want to join the millions on the rail that complain how they tried to trap with AA/KK and someone with 62o (from the blinds) cracked them.

Remember, the key at this stage is to slowly chip away at your opponents stacks so that you may fly under their radar until you can get a solid read on them.

Mid Stage of tournament
At this point of the tournament, players style start to change. Those who had full intention on being aggressive to the end may have found themselves SS and/or are now tightening up. Those that started out tight, have now gathered some information about their opponents and are playing aggressively against them. This is the part of the tournament that if you don’t survive and chip up, you will have little chance to make it to the money.

Because players tend to tighten up the later the tournament goes, this is where starting to steal blinds and betting your big hands aggressively can pay off. If you just wait for the monster hands, you will find yourself SS and pushing with any 2 cards, possibly against multiple callers, as players are looking to increase their chip stack. At this point you need to pick your opponents more than your hands. If you have been paying close attention to the players at your table, you should have picked up some patterns, which could allow you to exploit them when the right situation comes up.

With the mantra “risk is good,” don’t be afraid to push all-in against your opponents if you feel they are weak, you have a great drawing hand, and obviously with the nuts. This then puts the pressure on them, allowing you to possibly make it through to the next stage of the tournament with a good stack of chips.

When it gets close to making the money, also known as playing on the bubble, many players tend tighten up their game in hopes of not being knocked out before the bubble ‘pops.’ This makes it a great time to steal pots with a wider range of hands, especially if it is against players with mid size stacks in the blind positions, as they will be waiting for the SS to go out. By putting pressure on your opponents, for most or all of their chips, many players will be willing to lay down top pair so they can make it into the money. On the other hand, the correct way to play is to not be pushed around when it gets close to the money, as you will need all your chips if you plan on winning the tournament. Don’t be afraid to be knocked out if you think your opponent may be stealing, or that your hand is good enough to win at a showdown. The key to playing on the bubble is really your position at the table and not your cards, so use it wisely.

In the Money (ITM)
Once the bubble has burst, the real game begins. You shouldn’t feel happy about just making the money, you should look to win the tournament. It really doesn’t matter how many chips you have, as everybody has an opportunity to finish first, it will all depend on how you play according to the rest of the table. At this point, you need to really be aware of who the short stacks are, who the Chip Leader is and where you fit in accordingly, as hand ranges will open up since everybody is guaranteed to make some money. You also need to be aware of the size of the blinds, as stealing them could represent a good percentage of your stack, and at the same time could make you SS if you let them go by too many times. If you can manage to steal the blinds once per round, then you should be able to maintain your stack size as players get eliminated.

If, when you reach the money, you are the Short Stack, then you need to find situations where you can get your money in good. Now this doesn’t mean you have to have a monster hand to play, only that you need to assess the situation to see if playing your cards at this moment is to your advantage. In order to win this tournament, you will need to double up several times but that doesn’t mean you play any 2 cards from any position. You have to take into account what position you are sitting at and which players are left to act after you, before pushing all you chips into the pot. Pick the wrong time and you could be out of the tournament, or wait too long and you get blinded to the point where everybody can call your all-in to make sure you get knocked out. The same thing goes when you are planning to play against a SS. Pick the wrong time to push, and they double up through you, wait too long and you could end up as the SS. Even though I’ve been preaching that your cards matter least, if you are going to be putting pressure on a SS in one the blinds, you should consider the strength of your hand and how much it will cost you if the SS doubles up, through you, before betting.

When it comes to the Chip Leader, something similar could happen. If you are not the CL and he/she has been aggressive to this point, there really is no reason to think they will stop playing this way, so considering your hand strength before pushing against them. On the other hand, if the CL has been a solid tight player on their way to the chip lead, then position plays a huge part when trying to take some of those chips away from them. Now if you happen to be the CL when the money is reached, you now have a distinct advantage over your opponents. By taking advantage of your position and your stack size, most of your opponents will not want to play back at you, as you may knock them out of the tournament.

If you happen to be 1 of the mid-size stack players, then your play here can be tricky. You ideally want to go after the SS, while trying to avoid playing weaker hands against the CL. Playing tight here is not always ideal, even though it could allow you to move up the money ladder as other players get eliminated. The problem with playing tight is that the blinds will eat away at your stack to the point where you become a SS and are forced to push, with probably weaker cards, than you want to. If you have a favorable position at the table, don’t be afraid to push in hopes of taking down the blinds, or isolating yourself against 1 opponent. If you are not one of the mid-size stack players, then attacking them when they are in the blinds should allow you to finish ahead of them, as they will most likely be trying to avoid confrontation so they can move up the money ladder.

If you play smart, taking into consideration your opponents situations and your position at the table, you should be able to survive having your blinds stolen, and possibly a bad beat by the SS in hopes of finishing first.

Heads-up (HU)
When it comes to Heads up play, position is the key to winning. If you are the Button, you act first pre-flop but get to act last after the flop and beyond. Because of this opportunity, you should always take the lead by raising pre-flop from the button, no matter what your hand is. After the flop, you have the opportunity to take into consideration all your opponent’s action and how they relate to what is on the board, which should allow you to narrow his/her range of hands. Keep in mind that a flop will miss yours or your opponent’s hand somewhere around 60% of the time, meaning bluffing plays a huge part in winning heads up.

Because hands move quickly at this stage, you must be willing to open up your hand range so that you can enter many more pots than in a standard 10 or 6 player table. By playing tight and/or passive you allow your opponent to steal the blinds from you. Don’t be afraid to play, as waiting for monster hands will only bleed your chips away. And when you do finally get a hand, your opponent will have a pretty good idea he/she is up against a monster because you have played tight to this point.

With a big difference between 1st and 2nd place money, it is worth taking chances in order to win 1st place. You’ve made the money, now play to win it all, no matter what your cards are.

Good luck at the tables.

Blind vs Blind

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2 Comments to Why the cards matter least – Poker Strategy Part 5

Poker Management
January 27, 2009

I know a few people that go to satellight tourneys a few times a year in the hopes of getting in TWSOP through the perpetual back door. After reading this portion of it, I think that this will definitely aid those who are take poker as either a serious hobby or play to earn money as a job. What I found very useful is the transition between playing on the bubble in accordance to playing while in the money. I don’t know a single soul that plays just to be in the money: They are all out to win. Although luck does play some part in it (most of that geared towards heads-up turn and river all-in hands), it’s a fact that a good percentage of pots taken were done so by one’s mannerisms, not by the cards he/she is holding at the time.

The Good Poker Sites
January 31, 2009

The importance of cards is usually a function of how good my opponents are. If they are terrible, I feel like I can probably run circles around them with whatever cards I am given.

If they are better than me, you’ll probably see me waiting around for a hand a little bit more often, not taking as many risks and floating people on the flop.

I suppose it’s fair to say that players will change throughout the tournament, so I like the way you broke this down as well.

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